Friday, November 21, 2008

The Northern Ireland Question

My favorite short poem.

Desmond Egan's The Northern Ireland Question:

two wee girls
were playing tig near a car

how many counties would you say
are worth their scattered fingers?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

King Bernard I

A picture of King Bernard de Jambon I for RHE

Friday, September 19, 2008


Since you asked, I’ll tell you why
Blueberries remind me of Sophia Loren.

It’s because I was young once — in Maine
In summer — and worked a Tabbutt rake
Through sequins of low bush dew until
The sun made me think of a dark-haired girl
In a white apron with a baby crooked in one arm
Her free hand sweeping damp hair
From her forehead — and I wanted to nurture.

That summer I filled many bushels and collected my pay.
And something fell to earth and something blew away.

© 2008 Jeffrey Roberts

Face Value

I spent fifteen uncomfortable minutes
On the hopper in a unisex bathroom
Under a photograph captioned Lou Reed
And Laurie Anderson at the Hominy Grill.
Its thousand words — all questions.

Whose fifteen minutes were they?
Mine? The chef’s? Lou and Laurie
Had theirs. (One expects the blank
Stare from Lou.) What does Laurie find
So amusing? My modesty? Shrimp

And grits for breakfast? Waking up
In South Carolina? What are they doing
In Charleston? Did they get soaked
Like me — walking up Meeting
Down Calhoun — right on Rutledge?

Answers don’t come and—of course
A picture doesn’t prove a thing
These days. Who can trust the eyes
Of a velvet Jesus? What miracle
Earned this space in such a chapel?

© 2008 Jeffrey Roberts

Friday, June 6, 2008

There Never Was a Bird

There Never Was a Bird

There never was a bird—in that cage.
Whitewashed for company who never visit.
Never muss the unsoiled perch.
Never give a feather to the edge of the snipped wire.
Never enjoy the hole and its ocean view.

It is what it can be. It is an object
With a title. It is a prince among princes.
It is a cenotaph for soaring souls that fear delight.
It is a third image of the blue peninsula.
It is ekphrasis redux. It is connected to this by this.
It is for this that I am.

Her words were heavenly enough to name that cage.

If I could—I would pin together the feathery paper scraps
Left behind—to build the poem named Object, Untitled.

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Ekphrasis poem for Joseph Cornell's ekphrasis poetic theater for Emily Dickinson

Image: Construction, "Toward the Blue Peninsula (for Emily Dickinson)" by Joseph Cornell, 1952

Friday, May 9, 2008


If you look away, you can see
a pair of hands separate from their wrists
and know each part insists on equal truth.
You can watch ankles wave good-bye to their feet
and know neither is going away.

Knowledge, like love of anything
is the water line that slices away
the things below and sets them adrift
in their own lighted shadows.
Where are the caramel shoulders
and the back as smooth and dark as a beetle's?
Stars misdirect with their subtle angles.
They hide right out in the open
in the places they just left.

Sometimes when you think a woman
is upstairs reading, she's in the pool
pillowed deep in that old air-raft
dangling her arms in the water.

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Refraction was first published in ECTOPLASMIC NECROPOLIS from Blood Pudding Press

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Her Unusual Journey

She never travels to where Polaris
augers his flag and claims all around it
for the King of Winter. Nor will she visit
where horses pull the wind.

Her warm airs annoy the mean temperatures.
She travels from the middle of somewhere and back
spreading between degrees of mercury and latitude.

In Barrow, doors open no wider than a trash bag.
The garbage still freezes hard. The caribou warm
within the whisper of the pipeline.

Closer to home, the granite knuckles of my ancestors
protrude from beneath the snow. I feel her in my finger tips.
I hear her hum and crack the lake like taffy.

Periscopes of crocus rise and mark
the bearings of her ship steaming north.

Her unusual journey begins in the middle
and ends where she turns, slapping her pockets
as if noticing forgotten keys
to retrace her obvious steps.

©R. Jeffrey Roberts
Her Unusual Journey originally appeared in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune

Friday, April 18, 2008


My father is a fossil. Around him
Dawns flare. Dusks bleed.
The time between is Greek.

Oligocene: not much is new.

An inland sea shaved the buttes.
Today’s faces all wear the same whiskers
Making everything – so nothing – familiar.

In a family photo taken when I was eight
He is bearded, wearing black-frame glasses
And a Hawaiian shirt. I’m sitting on his knee.

The gray peaks could be waves. No wonder
I’m lost. I may as well be traveling
The ocean between a man and his father.

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cape Cod

A bare bulb porch light
dangles above
a broken screen door
on a cottage in Chatham.

In the dull vanilla
soft-serve glow
an old plastic bucket
left behind on the stoop

waits for morning
and the sounds
of kids with little shovels
full of sand.

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pearl Shawl

women place such emphasis
on the center of gravity
when entering secret government
installations wearing very
dark glasses.

your new currency
looks good in utterly useless
charming little pockets.

I was
sleeping when the music stopped.

I noticed everything of course
the skin color, the reluctantly
edited suggestion. the heat

was a peacock in the midst
of the crowd. everyone gathers
at the squeals, hoots, and shouts.

small groups eventually wander off
into the twilight.

there’s no mistaking your
pearl shawl and wide legged slacks
cutting a figure through the crowd.

all that matters is that I
may live after all. let's celebrate:
first cup of coffee, far better form
sap running, warm air, nature's
vivid gorgeousness, spring blowing
your hair,

the end of swirling pity.

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sleeping In

Some kids rise early but not this one.

Even when her father’s icy lakes
crackle like bacon frying
her head of brambled anarchy
stays nestled in his cool pillow.

A boy-dream blankets her
settling in the low spots like fog.

This springald lingers, knowing that breakfast brings
a new reproach for a too skimpy halter
against the budding of April.

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Silent Bells

(For Kent)

Bells will herald welcome visitors
and pitchmen alike with no distinction.
Does Pisa's cold campanile announce
the presence of God or other gifts?

The moaning gong, the antiseptic
echo of a chime, the surgical pealing
of a siren, these are easy to heed
or attend. What of the mute

and the broken? What of the silent
knells, the subtle, small tinglings
that deliver news and warnings directly
to flesh without stinging the anvil?

Undiscovered wonders clamor between
the hammer blows. Does the tiny purple
bellflower blast through a tenor -- or toll
a suggestion by fingering the breeze?

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


First, be sure of the footing. After dark
dew slickens the flat stones, and the long-
handled net performs only half a balance
bar's chore. Where the river runs swift
the slim rod lies across the fulcrum
of the hips, using the energy of sex against
the water's push. If the sport is conquest
a game of brain over fin, it will take a bucket
filled to equal a trophy. If the sport is supper
and soup is soup whether herring or shad
each dip fills as much stomach as a ladle.

Either way, the narrows glint silver and blue
like a collection of antique letter openers.
Each fish slices through its windowed envelope
and is cashed as quickly as an unexpected check.

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Boatman

Every time the Boatman leans
against his pole and pushes
the water's solid floor, his pole
turns into a newspaper hat
leaving no connection between
hands and earth.

His passengers
always arrive at their destination
and yet the canal is littered
with old news and the melting
gray dye of a cheap sweater
in the wash. Should I try
propelling a boat with a paper hat
or is motion more personal than that?

© R. Jeffrey Roberts

Helix Aspersa

Helix Aspersa

No slime precedes its silent arrival
only rumors of slime, hard enough
to pave a victim’s path.

Its vagabond bindle is slick
but dry, like shellac, and handsome
deep mustard with mahogany stripe.
It leeches, from my memory, lazy hitches
up to Maine, hoisting my own coiled pack
and battered cardboard lettered “North”
on one side, “Rockland” on the other.

It fields a foot
where the stomach should be, and ripples
the tacky callous, pulling itself over
the smooth pebbles like a tank. It lumbers
ass-backwards, up my coopered planter.

When eye to eye
it appears more cartoon than creature
looping its tentacles in opposite orbits.
Thinking this its female side, I look for a strap
or string in which to wedge a dollar
while she wiggles as slowly as Welk’s baton.
In France, it would be hauled off as cargo:
sixty to a pound, six to a serving.
In my garden, it finds its own way
walking the walk, pacing the pace.

© R. Jeffrey Roberts